22 January 1999

Lack of £s may still bring rejections for stewardship scheme

By Isabel Davies

APPLICATIONS to the Country-side Stewardship Scheme may still be rejected due to lack of funding, despite the injection of an extra £1m by government.

Junior farm minister Elliot Morley confirmed the cash, bringing the schemes budget for new agreements this year to £7.5m, during a visit to a stewardship farm near Farnham, Surrey.

He hoped the extra money would allow more applications to be approved, but admitted the popularity of the scheme meant that some would inevitably be rejected.

In the past three years, more than 3000 applications have been turned down.

"The government is aiming to create a greener and more environmentally-friendly farming industry. This is demonstrated by our decision to boost the funds available for stewardship this year," Mr Morley said.

But he continued: "The scheme is competitive and there is only a certain pot of money available. I am aware that this means some good schemes cannot be accepted but it does enable the ministry to target the applications which offer best value for money in terms of the environment."

Earlier, the NFU had called for a considerable increase in budget because of the bottleneck of applications. It claimed that many farmers had been deterred from undertaking work to conserve, enhance and restore habitats and features, such as ancient meadows and orchards.

Although welcoming the increase in funding it did not go far enough, the union said. It believed £20m was needed to deal with the current over-subscription problem.

But Mr Morley pointed out that, while he was sorry to see applications rejected, unless there was a shift away from commodity support under the common agricultural policy then it would not be possible to find any more money.

The additional £1m will be concentrated on funding new upland options for the enhancement of heather moorland and heather moorland habitat management.

Since Countryside Stewardship was launched, over 7400 agreements have been made. &#42